Facebook has launched its Express Wi-Fi service in India.
The service is currently available commercially via almost 700 hotspots in four Indian states, and the social media firm is working in partnership with Bharti Airtel to deploy a further 20,000 hotspots across the next few months.
Facebook first conducted trials of the service in 2015, in partnership with state operator BSNL. Following on from this, the social media firm purchased bandwidth from BSNL in January 2016 to support the Express Wi-Fi service, but following the announcement of Facebook’s partnership with Airtel it is unclear whether the state operator is still involved in the initiative.
Ajai Puri, COO for India and South Asia at Bharti Airtel, said: “We believe this will help in empowering millions of Indians by bringing them online and contribute to the government’s Digital India vision.”
Facebook has stated that it is working with several internet service providers on Express Wi-Fi, and indeed began discussing an expansion of the service with ISPs back in August 2016. The initiative is part of the social media firm’s internet.org campaign, which seeks to expand affordable internet access to underserved regions.
According to India’s regulator TRAI, only 390 million of the country’s 1.3 billion people have access to the internet. Express Wi-Fi is aimed at rounding out mobile data packages with an affordable high-bandwidth option for online access. Facebook is also hoping that the programme will encourage entrepreneurs in India.
The launch follows on from Facebook’s Free Basics programme – also part of internet.org – which has repeatedly run into obstacles in India. It aroused opposition for essentially facilitating zero-rated offerings, which TRAI declared illegal in February 2016 when it ruled against discriminatory pricing for data.
Currently Express Wi-Fi is available in Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania.